Patient sharing hospital room can leave through promissory note

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My dad is in the hospital right now. His doctor told him that he can go home but the hospital would not let him leave without settling his bill or executing a mortgage to guarantee his debt. Our family cannot pay the bill in full, and we don’t have any property to offer.

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Is the hospital’s demand legal? What can I do? Please help. We fear that my father’s prolonged stay in the hospital would be detrimenta because he shares the room with seven other sick patients.
Monty

Dear Monty,
Based on your narration, it appears to us that the hospital where your father is currently confined is detaining him against his will for non-payment of his outstanding medical bill.

The Supreme Court declared in the case of Manila Doctors Hospital vs. Chua (G.R. No. 150355, July 31, 2006; ponente: former Associate Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez) that a patient cannot be detained in a hospital simply because he could not pay his medical bill. The High Court held: “Authorities, including those of common law origin, explicitly declare that a patient cannot be detained in a hospital for non-payment of the hospital bill. If the patient cannot pay the hospital or physician’s bill, the law provides a remedy for them to pursue, that is, by filing the necessary suit in court for the recovery of such fee or bill.” As such, the demand of the hospital to fully settle your father’s bill or execute a mortgage to secure the same before allowing him to leave is clearly illegal.

It follows that your father has the corollary right to leave the hospital absent any legal reason for his continued confinement at the hospital. If the hospital denies him of such right, a habeas corpus petition may be filed in the appropriate court to liberate him. Habeas corpus is a special proceeding available to all cases of illegal confinement or detention by which any person is deprived of his liberty, or by which the rightful custody of any person is withheld from the person entitled thereto (Sec.1, Rule 102, Rules of Court).

Moreover, the demand of the hospital is also contrary to provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9439. RA 9439 prohibits detention of patients in hospitals on the ground of non-payment of hospital bills. Sec. 2 of this law states:

“Patients who have fully or partially recovered and who already wish to leave the hospital or medical clinic but are financially incapable to settle, in part or in full, their hospitalization expenses, including professional fees and medicines, shall be allowed to leave the hospital or medical clinic, xxx upon the execution of a promissory note covering the unpaid obligation. The promissory note shall be secured by either a mortgage or by a guarantee of a co-maker, who will be jointly and severally liable with the patient for the unpaid obligation. Xxx Provided, however, That patients who stayed in private rooms shall not be covered by this Act.”

Under the rules, a private room is defined as “a single occupancy room or a ward-type room divided by either a permanent or semi-permanent partition (except curtains) not to exceed 4 patients per room who are admitted for diagnosis, treatment and other forms of health care maintenance” (DOH A.O. No. 2008-0001, January 7, 2008). Taking into account that your father is staying in the hospital room with seven other patients, RA 9439 is applicable to your case.

According to the law, a patient who did not stay in a private room has the right to leave the hospital upon the execution of a secured promissory note covering his unpaid bill. The security may either be a mortgage, or by a guarantee of a co-maker. Please note that the law uses the term “either” indicating that any of the two mentioned security would suffice. Hence, a mortgage is no longer required if the obligation will be guaranteed by a co-maker.

Applying the foregoing, we advise your family to execute a promissory note in favor of the hospital and guaranteed by a co-maker to cover the unpaid medical bill of your father. Should the hospital still refuse to release your father after such offer, you may file a complaint for violation of RA 9439 against the responsible hospital officers and employees.

We hope we were able to sufficiently address your concern. Please bear in mind that our opinion is based on the facts you narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary if facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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